Navigating Through the Festival Circuit

Film festivals come in all shapes and sizes. Getting your movie out there is key to becoming a serious player in the entertainment industry, from big to small, from the well-known to the no-so-well-known. In addition, many directors and producers look at the film festival circuit to bring the word out about their latest project to find distribution, network and even broaden their filmmaking knowledge.

The film festival circuit has been a staple in the entertainment business since 1946’s Venice Film Festival. Many filmmakers understand the importance of getting their movies out there to audiences hoping they may inspire, innovate, and even turn a profit for their hard work. However, the task of bringing your film project to life is a daunting feat that will push your creative mind to its limit and is not for the faint of heart. When it comes to getting your short or feature movie into the film festival circuit, that’s another thing.

Navigating through the film festival circuit is something that many people have built their careers around. A movie can make or break its chances of catching moviegoers’ attention and potential distribution investors. So, here’s helpful advice as you traverse into the film festival world.


Prep: Ready… Set… Pause

When it comes to making a movie, it truly comes down to creating the right story. Does your story need to be told, is it entertaining, and would it stand out in a film festival? Sometimes having a hook might help your chances, and the movie could teach the viewer something. Co-Founder of Sarasota Film Festival, Mark Famiglio, states, “We are willing to look at films that teach us something, either teach us something technically or story-wise because of course it’s all about the storytelling—or a lot of it is.” During his interview with, the president continues, “Something that stretches our limitations… that makes us stand in other people’s shoes” when it comes to filmmakers leaving a lasting mark on their audience. Of course, part of that process is making sure your finished film is truly “finished.”

The idea is to make sure that your film is the vision you want and that it’s not the rough cut. Unfortunately, festival programmers rarely give an incomplete film the benefit of the doubt. However, if the project is complete but there’s still doubt, there are avenues. Tough questions on whether your film is ready to be submitted, getting honest feedback, and deciding if this truly is the moment is understandable to think of. Fortunately, there are ways to go about that.

Online test screening with surveys through Vimeo can help with that. A password-protected Vimeo screener will keep the film limited to the test audience, and there is survey software like SurveyGizmo, or Google Forms to collect the answers. Other feedback routes include a limited YouTube release, although many festivals frown on films already available to the public online. Lastly, some festivals offer feedback on your projects, but this is a rare opportunity.

If your film is ready to go, the next step is research.


Research: Know Your Options

Researching festivals will help decide where your movie will make the most impact. First, you must consider what genre best fits your film. There are niche festivals that cater to a particular genre, so it’s helpful to enter the movie into events that cater to its genre. Many festivals cover the basics film genres such as comedy, drama, and documentary, but not every event will have horror, sci-fi, or foreign. An action-comedy film might stick out like a sore thumb in a festival that has mostly indie dramas in the program. Next, consider finding out what type of crowds attends these festivals. Some film festivals focus on ethnic groups or social issues that movies might withhold. Also, several festivals cater to those productions if you’re a film student or your film is on a micro-budget. Yet, never forget one of the essential parts: goals and budget.

No one releases their movies without a plan—no matter how small it is. Having a set of goals is something to think about when formulating your plan. Are your goals to find distribution for your film, pitch a feature from the short film you made, or are you using the opportunity to network? Many of these festivals are great opportunities to get your foot in the door of the entertainment business. When networking, also keep in mind that other fellow directors, producers, distributors, and even festival programmers will want to know your next project. These like-minded people want to invest in long-term relationships with filmmakers.

Part of your film festival research is understanding the deadline and fees for your budget. Many film festivals won’t even consider your project if it’s turned in past the deadline. Some events might have an “Earlybird” deadline, regular, late, and extended deadlines—an “early bird” may offer a discount entry fee. Fees for the festival vary in the price range. Depending on the festival, the price to submit your film project can range from free to over $200. Some festivals offer entry discounts for students or independent filmmakers. The website Film Freeway is an excellent source on what kind of film festivals are out there, entry details, and deadlines—going to a film festival’s website allow you to get updated information, including entry rules and regulations. Many film festivals are on a global and local scale, and the number of submissions for your movie will go up and have a severe effect on your wallet. Your film festival budget is significant because you will want to submit your entry to multiple film festivals.

There are more than 3,000 active festivals, and options grow every year. Putting all your eggs in one basket is not the right move to get your movie noticed. Don’t be afraid to enter the film into as many film festivals as possible but remember to choose wisely. Look at which festivals will benefit what you’re looking to achieve. For example, if a festival only lasts for one weekend, that’s a red flag. The number of available slots for your film can be limited and can affect the amount of attendance for your movie. However, submitting your project is another matter to think about it.



If you want your movie to stand out, it’s essential to trust your voice and your unique experience. Helping your chance of success is also writing to the committee. It’s vital for filmmakers not to be shy about writing to programmers and sharing why their project is the right fit. In addition, it would help if you pitched an intriguing synopsis to convince the festival programmers and screeners to consider your film for their event. Many of these events are looking for interesting new stories to showcase because it reflects the art and craft of filmmaking and these types of gatherings.

Time can be on your side when it comes to submitting your film. Film festivals are often announced well into advance or have been an annual staple in some locations. If given a chance, attending festivals will be beneficial. You can see the films they tend to accept, but you can also make connections in real life, which can help with the submission process. In addition, understanding what type of crowd attends these events will help you decide which film festival suits your goals.

Be prepared for your film to be rejected. The Sundance Film festival receives over 2,000 feature films and triples for short films. Even regional and small-town festivals will commonly reject far more films than they accept. Filmmaker Noam Kroll comments while speaking to Indiewire, “Festivals of all shapes and sizes receive many submissions. There are only a handful of slots open – meaning a very low percentage of films are accepted to any given festival.” The founder of Creative Rebellion continues, “Many festivals can only take as little as 1% – 2% of the submitted films, which makes the decision-making process extremely difficult.” Rejection is part of the game when it comes to film festivals, and therefore, do not let that derail your goals of getting your project in other film festivals.

When you’re submitting your film, you are marketing your movie. Festival teams perceive filmmakers to promote their movies, the more likely it is to select their work in the first place. In addition, most festivals rely on filmmakers to work on behalf of their projects to help fill seats. That means hitting the ground running by using social media and other means to get the word out on your film project and where it’s shown if submitted to the festival. Many film festivals don’t turn a profit with submission fees alone and need movie ticket sales to justify next year’s event.



New and different film festivals are being created to cater to up-and-coming filmmakers—that means there’s at least one for your film. Film festivals are there to share the story filmmakers feel passionate about telling, and many of these programmers are looking to help with that. Keep in mind that there is a level of professionalism involved in the film festival circuit. People who submit and attend these events look for the next prominent filmmaker. However, never lose sight of your passion—it fuels your movie.